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Grief, questions follow fan’s death

Son watched father’s fall at Rangers game

By Stephen Hawkins
Associated Press / July 9, 2011

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ARLINGTON, Texas - Go to the ballpark and catch a foul ball: It’s what every fan wants to do.

And so it was for 6-year-old Cooper Stone.

He and his dad even stopped to buy a baseball glove on the way to the Texas Rangers game Thursday night. Even better, their seats were in the left-field stands, shouting distance from Cooper’s favorite player, Josh Hamilton.

Maybe, just maybe, he would throw one their way. In the second inning, he did.

Hamilton grabbed a foul ball that ricocheted into left field, and tossed it into the stands. The boy’s father, 6-foot-3-inch Shannon Stone, caught it, tumbled over a 33-inch-tall railing and plunged 20 feet onto concrete below, right in front of his son.

The 39-year-old firefighter died later at the hospital.

“That’s what they were there for, was to catch a ball,’’ Shannon Stone’s mother, Suzann, said. “Cooper loves baseball and he’s a big Josh Hamilton fan.’’

Pitching great Nolan Ryan, the team’s president, said the tragedy “hits us at our roots of who we are.’’

“We’re about making memories, family entertainment,’’ he said. “I certainly understand - and I’m no different than our fan base - when I was younger and I went to the ballpark my hope was to get a foul ball. That’s just part of the experience of being there.’’

Players had the option of getting grief counseling yesterday, and they wore black ribbons on their uniforms. At Rangers Ballpark, flags flew at half-staff and a black tarpaulin covered the gap where Stone fell.

A moment of silence was observed before the Rangers and Athletics played last night.

Hamilton started the game and hit a foul ball in the sixth inning that struck a man sitting about five rows behind the third-base dugout. The fan smiled as he held a compress against his forehead and walked away with stadium personnel to get further attention.

Hamilton, still grappling with the aftermath of the wrenching night, said yesterday he could hear the boy screaming for his dad after Stone fell. The player said he remembers the fall “like it happened in slow motion.’’

Jenny Stone, the victim’s 36-year-old widow, worried how her only son would recover from the horror of not just watching his father fall but riding in the ambulance on the way to the hospital.

“She’s very concerned about her son and the impact that this is having on him,’’ said Ryan, who spoke with her by phone in Brownwood, about 150 miles from Arlington. “She asked if I could do anything about the video footage that is being shown.’’

Replays showed the boy watching as his father reached out to grab the ball and then fell through a gap of several feet between the left-field seats and the 14-foot-high outfield wall that has a video scoreboard on it.

Suzann Stone was watching the game and hoping she would catch a glimpse of her son and grandson.

“Cooper told me where they were sitting so I could look for him on television,’’ she said, adding that she was out of the room when her son fell. “I missed it. I didn’t see it.’’

Her youngest son, Chad, called afterward and broke the news to his parents.

Fire officials said Stone, who witnesses said was conscious after the fall, “went into full arrest’’ in the ambulance and was pronounced dead at the hospital. Authorities said yesterday he died from blunt force trauma to the head caused by a fall from a height.

All-Star closer Chris Perez of the Indians said the tragedy will make him think twice about tossing a ball to a fan.

“I’m definitely going to make sure it is nowhere near a railing,’’ he said. “When you are a kid, it’s cool because it is a lasting memory. But when I see adults knocking one another over to get one . . . well, I just shake my head.’’

City officials say the building code requires the guardrails to be at least 26 inches high. Ed Dryden, Arlington’s building official, said railings throughout the park are 33 inches high.

There have been other falls at the 17-year-old stadium. Last July, a man survived after tumbling from an upper deck as he tried to catch a foul ball. In 1994, a woman fell about 35 feet as she posed for a picture after the Rangers’ first game.

Major League Baseball promised to review the incident “to ensure a safe environment for our fans.’’

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